I believe that Collins’ construction of Rue as the symbol of innocence meant that some readers automatically imagined her as White. After all, in what universe is an older Black tween innocent? Certainly not in American schools, with the often noted discipline gap. Certainly not in contemporary children’s literature, where Black kids and teens are underrepresented… and when they do appear, are sometimes viewed as “unlikeable” or “unrelatable.”
Collins also makes the grave mistake of stating from Katniss’ point of view that Rue reminds her of her younger sister, Prim. Prim is a much more familiar figure in children’s literature — the guileless, golden girl child often is the counterweight that balances the evil that the protagonist must overcome, and The Hunger Games is no exception. What is different is that while trapped in the Game, Rue becomes Katniss’ Prim, a younger companion who shares in the existential threat until she is overcome by it.
This was too much for some readers to take.
Beyond Ferguson, the pattern is clear. Blacks are always to blame, even as we are brutalized by police, ghettoized by neoliberal policies, and disenfranchised by a racist criminal (in)justice system.
But that’s the crux of white supremacist racial logic: the problem with black people is … well, black people – not mass incarceration and the deindustrialization of urban America, not educational inequality and generational poverty, not 400 years of slavery, lynchings, and Jim Crow. To be black in America is to be victimized and then made responsible for our victimization. We built this country. But, apparently, it is we who are lazy and dependent. We are bullied politically, socially and economically. But it is we who are called ‘thugs.’